My entre into the world of Arizona was seeing them perform
at a Greenpoint club while they had a professional crew there to film the show.
3 songs in and I was their willing slave and disciple (and they hadn’t even
hit stride yet for that show). I met a freelance writer afterwards who was looking
for a place to publish an article she had written on Arizona a while back and
she seemed interested in exploring the Deli as an option. I gave her my contact
info and assured her we could work something out but HA - she never got back
to me and I jealously coveted the opportunity to get to write about them.
And that was all before I had even heard the record.
‘Welcome Back Dear Children’ is quite possibly the strongest
debut album from an unsigned band I’ve ever heard. No shit. It sounds like a
band at the height of their powers instead of one just getting started. Track
5, ‘Splintering’ – go see them live and watch them blow the roof off the place
with this one. The recorded track is an orgasmic slow builder, taking its time
till the final frenetic climax. As a double bass player I generally hate bowed
bass of any kind in a rock context, but whiz Alex Hornblake uses it for maximum
effect in the opening, eventually switching over to a thundering Clash-style
electric bass. And these men are literate - never mind that the track is seemingly
written from the perspective of a central character in Ethan Frome.
If you want to geek out like me, there are certain parts of
the record written with Stephen King’s epic "The Dark Tower" series
and their characters and concepts centrally in mind. Which is awesome. But don’t
mistake these guys for another medieval Frodo loving rock group that writes
about big ass swords or battles for evermore. Not even remotely. Listen to the
second track ‘Some Kind of Chill’ and tell me the lyrics aren’t poignant to
any comers. It’s a perfect pop song – tight harmonies, a peanut-butter hook
(sticks to your brain like…), and a sexy slide break just to indie it up a bit.
Arizona and I were able to trade a barrage of emails while
the band was out on tour in the western half of the US.
Tell me a bit about how Arizona formed.
Arizona started when Nick, Alex and Ben met in New York to
record for fun over a week in December 2004. Ben and Alex were childhood
friends and former band mates from New York. Nick and Alex played in a grunge
rock band named Yellow and Green more recently in Atlanta where they met.
Eventually the band absorbed Andrew and James, originally from Atlanta band
Saint Jude after parting with our original drummer and wishing to collaborate
further with Andrew who had made a brief but substantial appearance during the
recording and mixing of Welcome Back Dear Children.
How did you form and put together a such a great record
(Welcome Back Dear Children) so quickly? You're an extremely young band
that sound like you've been together for years.
We've all traded each others' music and were fans of each other
for years before we formed a band. We were able to get into each others
heads very quickly, and write with each other in mind. We also are manic individuals,
so we create quickly when we're on a roll. Having a sense of flow and spontaneity
was very important to keeping our ideas and perspectives fresh.
OK, I may be way off base here, but I'm going to ask it
anyway. In Te Amo Tanto, I heard some lyrics that sound like they could
be referencing Steven King's 7 book epic masterpiece, The Dark Tower and its
main character Roland. There are many many other moments on the record
where it seems the world the lyrics refer to could be the same world.
Was this an influence on the record and the writing process, and if so, how
There are a few songs on the record which are directly influenced
by characters or events from The Dark Tower series; in general I (Ben) imagined
King's 'mid-world' (the setting of The Dark Tower) while making my sonic contributions
to WBDC. If you've read the series, you know there are 13 magic orbs that are
crucial to the story, and there are 13 tracks on WBDC. The order of the tracks
roughly emulates the emotional journey of King's characters. In addition to
Te Amo Tanto, which references 'the beam' (a geographical feature of King's
imaginary landscape), a majorly 'Tower influenced track is "David" – which is
about Roland's pet hawk of the same name. Nick wrote "On Judgment Day" but the
subject of that song and its placement on the album is pretty Tower even though
Nick never read the books.
On Splintering, how in the world did you come up with that
marvelous 'dodododo' climax before the final chorus? I could swear
when that final chorus kicks in I'm listening to some lost Queen classic that's
never been released.
Well when we recorded that one, we had a pretty good idea of
the song form and structure, so recording it was more a matter of documentation
than it was a writing/recording process. However, we had laid down some scratch
guitar tracks to record drums to, and the original idea was to have that be
just a real army of guitar harmonization moment, but we didn't record any lead
guitar scratches. Our drummer at the time, Matt, was having trouble keeping
track of the buildup (since it wasn't there yet) so we started singing the guitar
parts into the talk back mic for him to hear in his headphones. Eventually the
"dododos" really started to grow on us, and the part gained a more vocal feel.
What was it like working with Danny Kadar (producer/engineer/mixer)?
It's like having a sherpa. We're going to climb the mountain,
and we were already on the way having recorded several album cuts on our own,
but Danny was someone who steered us in a new direction. Having Danny
in the room allowed us to relax and focus on our creativity, knowing that someone
experienced was in the room - the pressure was no longer on us solely to make
something happen. Danny is also just a cool guy in general, and his presence
had a generally chill effect that allowed us to work in new ways.
Your album comes with a really gorgeous and surreal
watercolor poster done by Deems. When I perused his website, it looks
like he developed artwork for each of the tracks on the album, and they really
fit and flow with the themes you're exploring. How did you coordinate
your music and images so well?
It was a long process as we went through several different styles and ideas
before finding the final look for Welcome Back Dear Children. Deems initially
played with a vector-based graphic that looked like it could have been either
a frozen lake or a snow powdered desert, with crazy beautiful faces drifting
up from the ground, and a flowering tree where four children who seemed made
of light were dancing. Then we went with something that was almost like "Kill
'em All" with a giant, brutal looking hammer. Then finally, Deems came up with
what you see in the actual artwork, which still incorporates the hammer and
also the four children made of light. The tree made its way onto the actual
CD, and the little graphic on the back of the CD is a drawing Deems did when
he was very very young (like 3).
Deems said that he reached the final version by just putting on the record and
painting what he saw. Totally in keeping with how we work, just closing your
eyes and trusting that the art is out there to be caught and that you've got
a sharp connection to the place you need to go to catch it. In this case, the
music was the bridge Deems used to get into our minds and souls so that once
there he could discover the art which would please us most, and yank it in one
move into reality. Once the WBDC album was out, we wanted another chance to
work with Deems before enticing him to work on our upcoming third recording.
We commissioned him to make 7 drawings for major songs from the WBDC record;
again he just put the songs on in the background and drew what he saw. Once
Deems gets his mind hooked around a concept, he's just gotta reel it in. If
he wanted to do, he could make a million brilliant album covers because he is
so good at finding the unique substance at the heart of any subject; but because
this guy is a real artist, he's going to do his best work when he's out there
on his own casting for ideas in his own zone. We'd love for him to spend a lot
of time fishing in ours as well however! Nothing makes us happier than a new
piece of Arizona related Deems art.
Do you have any upcoming touring plans? Where are
Right now we're in Fort Collins, Colorado. We'll be touring
more in the near future, though no plans are solid right now. This tour
has been great. We initially opened for The Slip, who were amazing musicians
and people, and then we had the pleasure of opening for Band of Horses who brought
an amazing vibe and presence to the stage. It's our first tour and we've
all been blown away by how lucky we've been to share stages with bands of that
level. We will be playing the Annex in NYC on April 18th with Hymns,
Micheal Leviton, and Frances.
What are you working on now?
We're always making music on our own or in a group. We're
doing some scoring for an indie film directed by Chusy Jardine at the moment.
We've got a new EP that will be ready to release in late Spring, so we'll be
finalizing everything with that as well.